Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Don't Panic Over Janus. The Supreme Court is Not Ours


Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

I'm publishing this commentary below again given the defeat for organized labor in the Janus case which was expected. The decline of organized labor's power is not due to the immense power of the bosses but the failure of the heads of organized labor to counter the years long assault on unionized workers and workers in general. Why are we surprised? Since the defeat of Patco and the refusal of the labor officialdom to react to it, the bosses saw they had the green light and went further on the offensive.

Weakness breeds aggression and the bosses rode that horse hard.

The union officiadom's failure to bring the power of organized labor to bear during the heroic efforts in the 1980's to drive back the capitalist offensive by UFCW Local P9 in the Hormel struggle, Eastern Airlines, two Greyhound strikes, public sector strikes and the Detroit Newspaper strike, the great battle in Decatur described aptly as the War Zone, and on in to the 1990's with the Pittson strike and more. This is what laid the groundwork for all the defeats since, including in the courts and the Janus legislation. The US ruling class does not fear the union leadership. They have cooperated to the extent that the bosses do not even need them any more.

West Virginia and the teachers struggles frightened the labor hierarchy. They were sidelined or were secondary factors in a rank and file rebellion that was made possible by the very fact that the established leadership were overruled, were weak or non existent. It showed that we can violate the bosses anti-union, anti-worker laws and win. A new leadership is emerging

Unions were not built by the Mafia, lawyers, Hollywood celebrities or through the generosity of the two capitalist parties or their highest legislative body, the so-called Supreme Court, the capitalist equivalent of the Stalinist Politburo or whatever that regime's top legal body was.

Workers built unions by breaking their laws. It was the Civil Rights movement that eradicated some of the most blatant abuses in the Apartheid South. Black folks, women, the LGBQT community, immigrants, workers in general, all victims of the rule of capital, it was lawbreaking through mass action that forced the power to concede through legislative scribblings what was won in the streets.

Do not fret at the thought of a conservative Supreme Court, we owe nothing to them and cannot rely on them. Trump has laid the whip on the backs of workers and the poor and there will be a price to pay for this. The working class as a whole will be forced to respond as our backs are pushed against the wall. The coming movement against capital will not be pretty given the absence of leadership and the failure of the heads of organized labor to provide it. But the coming struggles will begin to draw in all sections of the class through victory and defeats as the working class begins to find its feet and new leadership emerges. The struggles that have been isolated and alone to a great extent will have somewhere to go. It is my view that in times of heightened class struggle workers tend to seek class allies and through this process forced on us objectively, divisions used by the bosses to weaken our unity, racism, sexism, etc. tend to be overcome. Nothing is guaranteed, and a lot is dependent on leadership.

I do not accept as the truth when some activists ascribe to a philosophy that says there are no leaders; someone called the damn meeting.

There have been huge struggles, I have mentioned them many times in this space. We must build on them and the recent major offensive of workers in the education sector. This, and the building of a political party of working class people is the way out, not hoping in quiet desperation that a bunch of old bourgeois will save us. If we are strong, they'll change the law and when we are strongest, we can change society. This is about social power not morality.

Here's the previous piece written before the Janus decision.

Following West Virginia's Lead Will Defeat Janus and the Bosses' Courts.

By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

“This deprivation of resources didn’t happen overnight; it’s the result of harmful policies that have prioritized testing, school budget cuts, tax breaks for the wealthy and top-down education mandates over listening to educators and valuing what they, their students, parents and communities need when it comes to resources and support for teaching and learning. That is why we are so grateful to Leaders Schumer and Pelosi, Ranking Members Murray and Scott, and Democrats in Congress—because they get it.” Randi Weingarten AFT President. (Emphasis added)

While many rank and file workers have some vague knowledge of it, the trade union hierarchy is waiting in nervous anticipation for the US Supreme Court, the highest bourgeois legislative body in the land, to rule on Janus vs Afscme.  Mark Janus filed a lawsuit against his union claiming him having to pay what are termed “fair share” dues as a union member violates his First Amendment rights. Janus says he’s not anti-union. He says he does not support the union negotiating higher wages and benefits for him that the state can’t afford and is quite willing to negotiate his own salary and benefits without a union and, in fact, as a non-union member.

Anyone with a brain knows you wouldn’t get far negotiating with any company, public or private, if you approached it as an individual. Employers would not even bother to respond to individual workers as confirmed by a couple of centuries of experience including severe violence against any worker(s) trying to organize.

Janus has not filed a lawsuit so he can make it easier for his boss to cut his
wages and benefits (Janus objects to his $45 a month fair share dues).

Behind Janus are major right wing forces, the misnamed, Right to Work
Committee connected to the racist and anti-union John Birch Society as
well as the Liberty Justice Center and other pro-market groups whose
liberty is defined as the freedom of capital to exploit labor unrestrained by
unions. It’s the freedom of profiteers and prominent ones like the Koch
brothers and the Mercer family are backing Janus. If Janus and the right
wing billionaires win, it could mean the loss of 726,000 union members over
the next few years according to the Wall Street Journal.  ” It will also
disproportionately affect black women, who  “make up 17.7 percent of
public-sector workers, or about 1.5 million workers.” according to the

Trade Union Leadership’s Response Will Aid Janus’ Cause

To combat what is believed to be a likely victory for anti-union forces on the Supreme Court, the trade union hierarchy has been running around getting members to sign cards pledging that they will not opt out of union dues: “We have a goal of speaking to every union member and getting them to “recommit to the union”, says Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Lee Saunders, the president of Afscme says the Janus case is a “blatant political attack” by people that want to weaken unions. Where has he been the last 50 years? Afscme is also desperately trying to get members to sign pledge cards and the American Federation of Teachers is doing the same, contacting some 800,000 teachers and, according to reports in the press, over 200,000 have signed cards pledging to pay dues in the future. In some states, the Wall Street Journal reports, these cards will be legally binding.

This will bolster the right wing’s argument that you only see union officials or their massive army of staffers at election time, for internal union elections or for Democrats. And making them “binding” or suggesting they should be legally binding, will infuriate most members not seasoned in workplace struggles and politically committed to their union. It will prove the anti-union forces correct in that the present leadership of organized labor is an undemocratic entrenched bureaucracy that only has a serious presence in the workplace when they want something that benefits them.

The authors and supporters connected to facts For Working People blog and Think Tank recognize that there is legitimate anger at the failure of organized labor to defend our interests. Workers built and join unions to improve our material well- being.  Joining a union is not an exercise in civics for the average union member. But when union dues go up as wages and benefits decline, workers begin to question the need for being in a union at all. Being taken out on very costly strikes that are in actuality 24-hour protests that make no attempt to stop production and instead demand fewer concessions than the boss demands, do not inspire. Especially when the leadership bringing them out does not face the same hardships and top officials make obscenely high salaries.

And the union hierarchy’s continued support of the Democratic Party is another reason union members fall prey to attacks on trade unions by the forces of the right. The road to improving our living standards and building a future for our children and grandchildren in a world free of war, in which our true human potential can be realized, does not run through the Democratic Party. It’s nauseating in the video above to see Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers AFL-CIO, and Lily Eskelsen Garcia, President of the National Education Association, the largest union in the US with over three million members, sharing the stage with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leaders of the House and the Senate and championing the Democrats “Better Deal”. This is why the right gets an echo among rank and file union members and it’s a major reason Donald Trump was elected president of the US. No workers believe them even those that feel compelled to vote.

Back in the 1990’s Vice President Al Gore talking to his real friends in Business Week Magazine was asked whether or not the Democrats were as enthusiastic as the Republicans when it came to cutting government:

Q: Republicans want to kill five Cabinet agencies. You still seem to be
tinkering at the edges. Can't you find one department to eliminate?

A: Cabinet departments don't get created by accident. Below that level,
there are many agencies that we have eliminated. In one year, we downsized
by 100,000 employees. We have locked in place plans to eliminate another
200,000 workers. That's a bold start.”  Getting Smaller With Al, Business Week 01-23-1995

This is the party and politicians in the US Congress who Randi Weingarten claims “Get it” when it comes to defending workers' interests.

Here in California, it is often called a one party state the Democrats have such political power, yet public education, attacks on teachers, the public sector and all workers have continued here. Workers’ living standards have deteriorated under both Republican and Democratic administrations alike. We have to build a new road and a party of our own.

But turning our backs on organizations that took great heroism and sacrifice on the part of working people to build is no answer. We must defend and fight to make our unions the combat organizations they should be. There are different forces in a union. There is the rank and file membership that pay the dues, and the many shop stewards and worker representatives in the workplace who are dedicated and honest fighters in the day to day struggle on the job where the “Rubber Meets the Road”.  My guess is Mark Janus isn’t one of them. Then there is the leadership at the highest levels and their army of paid full timers.

Leadership has responsibilities, and the reason the unions are in the state they are today and the reason we have lost so much ground and why strikes are so ineffective, is the class collaboration polices and worldview of the present union officialdom.

The union hierarchy supports capitalism and worships the market. It has no alternative to the present system and for them, mobilizing the potential power of organized labor’s 14 million members can only lead to chaos. This class collaboration is embedded in the dominant philosophy held by the entire leadership of organized labor, the Team Concept, the view that bosses and workers, capital and labor, have the same interests. They see the unions as employment agencies and themselves as the CEO’s. Mobilizing the potential power of their members; to achieve significant victories over the bosses or win a major strike, would also inspire and draw in the millions of other workers throughout the country. They wouldn’t need to sign cards or be offered cheap credit cards as a perk for joining. Such a possibility terrifies the present leadership as it would threaten their own privileged positions and the relationship they have built with the employers’ and capitalism in general based on labor peace. So they repeatedly move to crush any movement from the ranks that threatens their positions and it is why they are silent on the importance of the West Virginia events.

West Virginia: What Workers and What Doesn’t
Instead of the defeatist position of getting members to sign cards to “recommit” to the union, and appealing to the bosses’ courts to make them legally binding, we have seen in West Virginia and throughout a number of Republican dominated states how we can actually win and make real gains.

In the case of West Virginia, it became obvious to teachers and other education workers there that in order to win they had to not only take a strong position against the bosses’ they had to brush aside the obstacle of their own conservative leadership by not only refusing to return to work without guarantees but by relying on rank and file power and going on the offensive. The result of their efforts was a 5% increase as opposed to 1% and the same increase for all state workers.  Power attracts while weakness breeds aggression in these instances. This strategy, that will only be possible by running over the present leadership and defying anti-union anti-worker laws is what will win and what will, to use a term popularized these days, “Make Unions Great Again”.

More reading on the recent teachers struggles:

I have been told by union staffers and officials for 40 years that we cannot win. The bosses are too powerful, the laws are against us. We must get Democrats elected. We cannot break the law despite unions being built by doing just that. The huge victory in West Virginia, a Republican state where strikes are illegal has changed the game. This victory and that it came about through by-passing the established leadership should be heard loud and clear at every rally, every protest, in every dispute, in every union hall and workplace. This is the strategy and tactics that will win. Not the sickening boot licking by union officials of capitalist politicians we see in the video or by the groveling of building trades leaders at the feet of the Predator in Chief Trump after his election victory.

It is crucial to recognize that a reason this breaching of the obstacle of their own leadership by West Virginia educators was made easier was because the labor hierarchy is weaker there and in the states where these uprisings have taken place. The powerful combination of the employers and our own leaders, that link between our leaders and capitalist politicians in the form of Democratic legislators that union members on strike or in struggle have to face was not as strong.

A word here about many of the self styled socialist groups that seek to speak on behalf of the working class. They must also speak up against the role of the trade union leadership. Many of these groups have sought to curry favor with the trade union leadership and so do not point out their refusal to fight the bosses, do not point out the fear trade union leaders have of any major victory for working class people. What West Virginia showed is that in all serious struggles the union leadership at this time has to be pushed aside. The self styled socialist groups which do not point out the role of the trade union leadership have to see that they will either take the side of the great rank and file struggles such as in West Virginia or take the side of the trade union leadership which opposes these rank and file struggles. 

As I have stated many times we are in a war on two fronts, one against the bosses and the other against the class collaboration policies of our own leadership. Any union member, any activist, any rank and file opposition caucus whose aim it is transform our unions and reverse course cannot avoid a conflict with the present leadership. But when we take this up West Virginia has shown how swift and easy it can be.

But this was only one battle in this war. The bosses will try to blame any gains these struggles make on the workers involved and try to pass on the costs to other sections of the working class and our communities, a divide and rule offensive. It is the role of those fresh leaders who emerge in these struggles to combat this. We will also see the infiltration of all sorts of trendy types whose aim it is to drag the movement back in to the fold and the political black hole of the Democratic Party.

It is without doubt that the trade union hierarchy is not an homogeneous bloc. A powerful movement from below will force what are presently small fissures and private disputes and disagreements in to open splits. There will be an open breaking of ranks at some point along the lines of the John Lewis split and the formation of the CIO. This seems inevitable.

Whether or not the forces against change and for the status quo will prevail and calm the storm remains to be seen. It depends a great deal to the economic forecast and the recession or deep slump that will arrive sooner than later.  What is certain is that lessons have been learned in the uprising of workers in education that we have seen over the past months and they will be not be forgotten next time.

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